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Freedom House Condemns Latest Act of Media Repression in China
Freedom House today expressed its serious concern over the Chinese authorities' closure on January 24, 2006, of the influential weekly newspaper, Freezing Point ["Bing Dian"], which often covered sensitive social and political issues. The Chinese government's crackdown on the publication is part of a larger pattern of media repression that has escalated over the last two years.
The closure came as the online search engine Google announced it had agreed to self-censor in exchange for greater access to the world's fastest-growing Internet market. Under an arrangement with the Chinese authorities, Google will be able to provide a China-based search service. It will not, however, offer email and blogging services to Chinese customers due to the risk of being ordered to provide users' personal information to the Chinese government.
Freedom House executive director Jennifer Windsor said, "The Chinese government's closure of Freezing Point is the most recent illustration of the commitment by the Chinese Communist Party to smother free expression."
"Equally troubling is the reality that western firms are effectively facilitating censorship in China and jeopardizing the welfare of journalists," Windsor added. "Fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, should not be negotiated away in return for market access. Western businesses have a leadership role to play in encouraging best business practices in local markets, including in the information sector."
Recent examples of media suppression in China include the cases of:
- Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong-based correspondent for The Straits Times, who was detained in April 2005 on suspicion of harming state security by working for Taiwan as a spy;
- New York Times researcher Zhao Yan, who was imprisoned in an investigation concerning the alleged leaking of state secrets regarding former President Jiang Zemin's resignation from one of the former president's high government posts, the Military Affairs Commission;
- Shi Tao, a reporter for Contemporary Business News in Hunan province, was arrested for violating state secrets laws, after emailing a one-page document to the New York-based website, Democracy Forum. Online search engine Yahoo, which claims it was legally compelled by the authorities to provide the information, helped the Chinese government trace Shi Tao. In April 2005, he was sentenced to ten years in prison.
Ching Cheong and Zhao Yan remain in custody and are expected to receive prison sentences next month. These cases and others like them add up to a media environment that is highly capricious and dangerous for independent-minded journalists.
Freezing Point was accused by the authorities of "viciously attacking the socialist system" by publishing a story that criticized history textbooks used in secondary schools.
The action against Freezing Point comes less than a month after the authorities' firing of the editor of Beijing News, another publication known for reporting on sensitive subjects.
Freedom House will be releasing a report on Chinese control of the mass media next month.
In its 2005 survey of press freedom, Freedom House rated China as having a "Not Free" environment for the media, ranking it in 177th place out of a total of 194 countries and territories worldwide. Major concerns cited in the report include legal restrictions; overt censorship by authorities of all forms of media, including the Internet; self-censorship on the part of journalists; and the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world.
Freedom House also ranked China as "Not Free" in its annual survey of political and civil rights, Freedom in the World. The survey gave China a score of seven for political rights and a six for civil liberties. The lowest score possible in both categories is a seven.
Freedom House, an independent non-governmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has monitored political rights and civil liberties in China since 1972 and press freedoms in China since 1980.
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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.